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Blue Ocean Recruiting

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Why is Japan such a tough market for companies to recruit in? Simple: supply is limited, but demand is constant. The factors limiting supply are talent (true in most markets) and bilingual and bicultural capability. Extrinsic motivators, such as salary and stock options, have less of a pull than in other markets.

This strong demand and limited supply mean that fees remain higher in Japan than in other markets. Often, there is little difference between the fees of a local company and a retained global firm. The limited supply means that even the global firms are acting as contingency firms. A senior director at one US firm explained, “Yes, we market candidates [on a contingent basis] to our clients. We call it a short list of one.”

In Europe and America, recruiting companies focus on winning business from clients. In Japan, the focus is on meeting, interviewing, and gaining the trust of candidates.

Some global firms have found it tough in Japan, while others, RSA, as an example, have held back from tackling the Land of the Rising Sun. The big US and EU firms bring a strong reputation; their consultants often come from industry, have a sound corporate understanding, and can strongly represent their clients to the market. So why haven’t these firms done as well in Japan as in other markets? One reason is that they sometimes over-promise and under-deliver: they can be “all hat and no cattle,” meaning that they look like a million bucks but perhaps lack the candidate reach through the market to deliver. Clients can also be susceptible to the “bait and switch,” where the managing partner wins the business, and the junior consultant executes the search. The big firms tend to be less sales-orientated and more consultative.

The thorn in the side of global firms is the local contingency companies with their large candidate pools and their focus on meeting candidates. Their mantra is, “He who meets the most candidates wins.” These companies are aggressive and sales-focused. On the negative side, they don’t always send a consistent message: the firms have a “churn and burn” strategy to hiring. If a junior works for a year, meets 200 candidates, and leaves, that’s fine because the companies know they will recoup their investment over time by placing roughly 10 of those 200 candidates in the future. The local firms work for the candidate rather than the client. They shop their top candidates to one company against another. This approach has more in common with a sports agent than an executive search. Because these firms look to hire twentysomethings, their knowledge is limited; however, over time, they many go on to become industry insiders.

At Morunda, we recognize that the market is in need of a middle ground—a firm that can offer clients a strong brand, market knowledge, and the ability to map and understand the market with vigor and professionalism. At the same time, Japanese clients need a firm that can execute quickly and reach deep into the candidate pool. Morunda has launched MorundaBlue, a retained search practice led by Adam Kennedy. Adam is a Director with the Morunda Group and first came to Japan in 2002 (working alongside Philip Carrigan at his first company). He has been working in search ever since, specialising in senior level positions within the Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology sectors. Adam has proven himself to be one of Japan’s top recruiters and Asia’s Life Science leaders regularly seek him out for his deep industry knowledge and consultative approach. Adam focuses on director level positions and above, and has a personal interest in rare diseases, firms servicing to Pharma and Device Manufacturers and smaller operations establishing themselves in Asia. Originally trained in finance, Adam worked in a variety of financial and operational management roles in the UK’s National Health Service, as well as a boutique consulting firm.

 Retained Global Firms
 Positives  Negatives
·         Strong reputation

·         Strong understanding of industry, corporate understanding

·         Ability to represent firms well


·         Over-promise and under-deliver 

·         “All hat and no cattle”—lack the network to deliver the search

·         Clients susceptible to “bait and switch”

·         Not sales-orientated

Morunda Retained Search
·         Strong reputation—active in the market since 2001

·         Strong industry knowledge—writing industry articles since 2006

·         Deep understanding of the industry—held industry events since 2007

·         Experience leading global executive search projects in Europe, the United States, and Asia Pacific (including Japan)

·         Met more than 6,000 candidates in the Japanese pharmaceutical industry

·         Strong sales focus

Written by Philip Carrigan, (Pharma, Medical Device Recruiter Japan). Connect with me on LinkedIn.

Morunda should be your choice of recruiting partner in Japan and Asia Pacific. Why? Because we live and breathe the pharmaceutical industry in Asia and the Pacific—we’re specialists!

Morunda has completed over 400 managers to director-level placements since 2001.

A cultural understanding of what it takes to secure top talent.

Over one hundred thought leadership articles published.

We hold regular seminars for candidates and clients alike with industry experts.

We understand the market, not only today, but where it is heading in the next 12 to 18 months.

Through our extensive contacts with the best, brightest, and most well-prepared candidates in the market, combined with the ability to fully understand our clients’ needs, we can quickly provide the perfect solution to your requirements. Get in touch today by emailing

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